Do-It-Yourself Health: How the Maker Movement is Innovating Health Care

Nov 16, 2015, 11:14 AM, Posted by Anna Young

MakerNurse is changing the game for nurses by tapping into their natural problem-solving skills and bringing the spirit of invention, creativity, and innovation into medical settings.

MakerNurse co-founder Anna Young speaks at TEDMED 2015.

Anyone who has spent time in a hospital knows that—more often than not—nurses are the professionals who catch the little problems with your care: the uncomfortable IV tube, the bandage that doesn’t quite fit, the pill bottle that’s hard to open.

Nurses are natural problem solvers. They cut down bandages to fit preemies. They fashion a plastic cup around an IV site to stop it from snagging clothes. They roll up two hospital blankets and wrap them in tape to make a “cough pillow”—something to clutch against your stomach to ease the pain of laughing or coughing after abdominal surgery. These DIY medical devices are made by nurses every day in hospitals.

Nurses are uniquely positioned to spot such problems. So, why not encourage nurses to continue devising their own solutions, then give them the tools to create them?

With MakerNurse, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Jason Sheaffer with his modular irrigation system. Jason Sheaffer with his modular irrigation system. Photo via MakerNurse

Last month, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we opened the country’s first medical maker space on a patient floor of John Sealy Hospital at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). Stocked with tools ranging from pliers and sewing needles to 3D printers and laser cutters, the space allows nurses to:

  • Customize materials for individual patients, such as using a laser cutter to meticulously cut down wound dressings to fit a newborn
  • Upgrade an existing medical device, like adding a sensor to a take-home pill bottle to monitor whether or not the patient takes their meds as prescribed
  • Prototype and experiment with designing a brand new medical device to address problems from the hospital floor

In Texas, we’re already seeing nurses apply their creativity toward better patient care. Jason Sheaffer, nurse manager in the burn unit, used PVC piping with 3D printed connectors to make a modular irrigation system to attach to the burn unit tub, creating a shower system that will help nurses more efficiently and effectively treat burn patients. Dolly McCarley, from the Medical Surgical unit, laser cut acrylic attachments for patient IV poles to keep supplies closer at hand. Debra Flynn, from the Labor and Delivery Unit, fabricated protective sleeves for patient IVs using an impulse sealer, vinyl and string. Dell Roach in Cardiothoracic Surgery designed a template for placing 12-lead EKGs on pediatric patients.

In its report, The Future of Nursing, the Institute of Medicine called on health care organizations to engage nurses and other front-line staff in the design and development of medical and health devices. Nurses must do more than just talk about new ideas for improving health and health care. They should be able to turn those ideas into something they can hold in their hands.

As we work with RWJF and others to build a Culture of Health in America, we must continue to expand the critical role we play in helping everyone in the nation live a healthier life. That includes tapping nurse creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness in more intentional ways. We are imagining what nurses could make if they had more than just the materials in the hospital supply closet.

Now, we’re working with hospitals across the country to build a network of MakerHealth spaces. Recognizing that nurses work as part of a team, we’re working to engage the whole health care community by inviting doctors, nurses, therapists, technologists, caregivers and patients to work together to devise solutions for making health care better. And we’re getting ready to launch a new website where medical makers can share “How-To’s” so others can recreate their health solutions and spread them throughout the health care system.

We can’t wait to see what nurses make next. If you’re a maker nurse, passionate about learning from other makers, join your colleagues online at the MakerNurse community, http://makernurse.community.

Anna Young is co-founder of MakerNurse and will discuss her work on stage at TEDMED 2015.